Tuesday, 11 October 2011


“The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” - Helen Keller

I went out into the garden this evening as the cloudy, grey morning gave way to a beautiful sunny Spring afternoon. The garden is a sight to behold at the moment. The roses are blooming, the irises are bright daubs of colour, the citrus trees have burst forth in a wild flowering spree, the stocks and lilacs in every shade of purple, mauve and violet. Bright golden buttons of the marigolds counterpointed by the clown-like pansies, the bright red geraniums, delightfully delicate pinks of the apple blossom.

And in each flower a microcosm of detail: Sepals enclosing petals, stamens, pistils, anthers, powdery pollen grains, sticky stigmas, and insects galore! Delicate down and prickly thorns, serrated margins of veiny leaves, with each blade of green grass an exclamation mark in Spring’s powerful affirmation of life. Beneath the brilliant blue of the sky the golden rays of sunlight are precious showers of treasure, a rich bounty that is redoubled by every living plant, even the humblest little weed growing in the cracks of the concrete path.

I drank in the colours, the intricate shapes, the play of light and shadow, the shifting hues and patterns as clouds passed quickly in and out of the path of the sun. My eyes filled with beauty and moistened as they overflowed with the loveliness of the Spring garden. A cavalcade of a thousand tints and hues, of shades and gradations of light. An infinitude of pattern, a wealth of detail and motifs of complex intricacies – I reveled in the glory of sight.

World Sight Day is an annual day of awareness held on the second Thursday of October, to focus global attention on blindness and vision impairment. As I viewed the colourful Spring garden I couldn’t help but shiver as I remembered that every five seconds someone in the world goes needlessly blind. Most causes of blindness are preventable and it is merely lack of money or access to medical care that contributes tot his terrible fate for millions of people worldwide.

Some frightening statistics:
•    Approximately 284 million people worldwide live with low vision and blindness
•    Of these, 39 million people are blind and 245 million have low vision
•    90% of blind people live in low-income countries
•    Yet 80% of blindness is avoidable - i.e. readily treatable and/or preventable
•    Restorations of sight, and blindness prevention strategies are among the most cost-effective interventions in health care
•    The number of people blind from infectious causes has greatly reduced in the past 20 years
•    An estimated 19 million children are visually impaired
•    About 65 % of all people who are visually impaired are aged 50 and older, while this age group comprises only 20% of the world’s population
•    Increasing elderly populations in many countries mean that more people will be at risk of age-related visual impairment.

“VISION 2020: The Right to Sight” is a global initiative, launched in 1999, which aims to eliminate avoidable blindness by the year 2020. VISION 2020 programmes have been adopted in more than 40 countries. The World Health Organisation is an important partner in these initiatives and provides support to high risk populations in developing countries especially.

Founded in Australia, the Fred Hollows Foundation is an international development organisation, focussing on blindness prevention and Australian Indigenous health. It is an independent, non-profit, politically unaligned and secular body. It carries on the work of the late Professor Fred Hollows (1929-1993). Fred was an eye doctor, an internationally renowned skilled surgeon, a champion of the right of all people to good health and a strong advocate for social justice. The vision of the Foundation is for a world where no one is needlessly blind, and Indigenous Australians enjoy the same health and life expectancy as other Australians. You can donate here to help the Foundation continue its good work.

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